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Health > Keeping Fit >Physical Fitness


Today all age groups are much more concerned with physical fitness then ever before, but do ensure if you embark on a fitness program that you choose one to suit your age and capability.

There is no doubt at all that when you see an Olympic athlete coming off the final bend on his or her way to yet another world record that you are looking at one of the fittest persons. It is equally obvious that we do not all need to be as fit as that to lead a happy and contented life. But how much exercise does a person need to take to keep the body fit enough to deal with the demands of everyday life, and what is the best way of taking that exercise?

Generally, it is true to say that most of the people living in the urban societies today would feel a lot fitter and maybe live longer if they exercised regularly and took more care of their bodies.

Keeping fit is very much concerned with the way that an individual chooses to lead his or her life. An office worker whose only exercise is walking between the bus stop and home will not be as physically fit as a postman who walks five miles a day in the course of his rounds. Fitness plays two parts in the attitude of positive health. First, you must keep up a minimum level of fitness to keep your body looking and feeling well so that you can enjoy life to the full. Secondly, you must be physically fit enough to be able to manage the physical loads that your ordinary daily activities and your leisure pursuits put upon you.


There are two important reasons why you should always try to remain physically fit. By far the most important is that you will simply feel better; the ordinary tasks of everyday living seem so much easier to cope with when your body is in good shape. The main reason why so many joggers have taken to the city streets over the last few years is that they have discovered this simple fact.

The second important part of keeping fit is the effect it is thought to have on your life expectancy. If physical fitness does prolong life it is most certainly as a result of the benefit that it gives the heart, lungs and blood vessels - all the apparatus that is concerned with delivering oxygen to your tissues. It is a simple face that if you live in today’s world, you are very likely to die of some disease affecting the heart or the blood vessels pressure and arteriosclerosis. If exercise does have a helpful effect on life expectancy it is by preventing or delaying the effects of these disease processes. However, physical fitness certainly has no known effect on the chances of suffering from other fatal diseases like cancer for example.


The scientists who study the effects of disease upon the population as a whole (epidemiologists) have been looking at the possible beneficial effect of physical fitness on the heart and blood vessels for some years now. There are many different studies that show a reduction in the number of heart attacks in people who are physically very active compared to those who are less active - that is sedentary. One of the most famous studies showed that bus conductors on double-decker buses, who run up and down stairs all day, were less likely to get heart troubles than their drivers who were sitting down all day. And while it is too early to say that taking exercise definitely reduces the chances of having a heart attack, all the information seems to point to a correlation between fitness and avoiding heart troubles.


The main signs of unfitness are breathlessness and sweating on relatively minor exertion. If you cannot climb up three flights of stairs without breaking into a sweat then you are unfit; if you get so breathless walking up the same three flights that you cannot carry on a normal conversation then you are also unfit. Apart from the ability to do a lot of work in a short time - when you climb stars for example-you should also have a reasonable amount of endurance. Nobody under the age of 70 (who is not disabled) should feel that they would not be able to manage a four mile walk at a reasonable pace on flat ground. Of course, for more active sports you would have to be much fitter.

Finally, there is the question of actual physical strength. In these days of relatively mechanized living there are few tasks that require an enormous amount of physical strength. There are few of us who have not felt the worse for wear as a result of moving some cumbersome piece of furniture around at some time or another-that is normal. When our bodies are not up to the tasks that we set them it is of course reasonable to say that we are unfit. However, there is no reason to suppose that you are improving your life expectancy by building up muscular strength; it is fitness of the heart and lungs that seems to matter from this point of view, although there are actually few forms of exercise that do not increase your muscle strength to some degree.


The capacity of the heart and lungs to carry oxygen to the tissues of the body seems to be the key to the sort of fitness that leads to physical well-being and possibly a longer life. Scientists can measure this by looking at the amount of oxygen that the body is capable of consuming during the course of one minute while someone is exercising hard. In normal men at the age of 20 this figure may be around 45 millimeters of oxygen consumed per kilogram of body weight during the course of a minute (the figure for women is about 10 millimeters per minute lower). Oxygen consumption falls in everyone after the age of 20. In a highly trained endurance athlete like a top class marathon runner the figure may be as high as 80 millimeters per kilogram per minute while very unfit people can sink to figures around 25.

The type of exercise that improves the degree of oxygen uptake and the overall efficiency of the heart and the lungs is called ‘aerobic exercise’ in simple terms this means the sort of exercise that makes you breathless while you are doing it. Endurance forms of exercise like running, swimming and walking as well as all the different sorts of ball games and team games that involve a lot of running are all good forms of exercise to take to improve oxygen uptake and therefore the level of fitness of the heart and lungs. The most efficient, convenient and inexpensive form of exercise for most people is probably running. The most important thing about choosing the basic form of exercise in your fitness programme is that it should be something that you enjoy and are prepared to go on doing.

However, improvements of the function of the heart and blood vessels is not the only thing that matters when overall fitness is considered. You also want to develop your body so that it is well balanced and supple as well as being reasonably strong. Running or jogging does all of these things except developing suppleness, so some stretching exercises must be done for overall fitness. Swimming, on the other hand, is a particularly good all round approach to fitness; and for those who are of a competitive spirit, all the common racket games like squash, tennis and badminton have excellent affects on fitness. Finally, for those who find fitness easiest to obtain when some form of travel is involved, hiking or bicycling are obvious answers.

Whatever form of exercise is best for you, it has been shown that any reasonably intensive training programme will improve the oxygen consumption by as much as 30 per cent in the course of a few weeks. Even in middle aged men who were given a very gradual increase in the amount of exercise that they were doing, it was found that increases of upto 20 per cent could easily be obtained.

The main thing to remember about starting to get fit is not to expect too much too soon. However, with perseverance it should be possible to produce a noticeable change in your feeling of well-being in the course of only a few weeks by a simple program of walking and running.

One of the most noticeable changes that has taken place in our society in the past few years has been in the number of people who are prepared to take hard exercise to keep themselves physically fit. Although they have no thought of going out and winning important athletic events, these people are spurred on by the thought that they function better in their everyday lives as a result of their fitness and might well be prolonging their lives.

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